Island tales #2: East meets West in beautiful beachscapes, remote villages, church ruins and Hakka clans

One of the most astounding things about this ultra-urban city of Hong Kong is that there are still some tiny and remote villages that are not accessible by vehicles, are mainly populated by village houses, and rather untouched by urbanism, and many of these are in Sai Kung, a large area in the Northeastern part of Hong Kong and much of it composed of country parks.

You can (only!) trek to these places but what greets you is often surprising, a simple laid-back lifestyle, a few old houses dotted amidst the greens.

In some of them, you can find church ruins co-exist with some remains of the Hakka culture.

Indeed, there is a very strong Italian and Catholic connection, with 11 churches dotted around Sai Kung that were initially built in the 19th century, a few lovingly maintained, others little more than rubble, and most originated from enthusiastic Hakka converts ministered to by hardy Italian missionaries.

One of the most well maintained is in the village of Pak Sha O (which means “white sand cove”), about 1km from the nearest road, along a path that passes through farmland and then beside a boulder-strewn stream.  The Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel is a 138-year-old white-washed stone building located on a gentle rise on the outskirts of the isolated village.

Another well-maintained Catholic church is the St Joseph in Yim Tin Tsai, a small island a 15-minute boat ride from Sai Kung town, where the entire community (of the “Chan clan”) had embraced Catholicism by 1875.  The island today is a Unesco-accredited tourist spot.

Of the 11 churches, 3 are looked after by the scouts, with the other 8 in various states of repair: those in Tai Long Wan (Sai Kung’s “big wave bay”) and Chek Keng are both still used occasionally for services, the one in Long Ke Wan (a memorable, beautiful and expansive beach at the end of the first section of the Maclehose Trail) is little more than a pile of rubble, while that on the island of Yim Tin Tsai has been revived and now the island has an Art Festival too!

Sai Wan, one of Madeleine’s favourite Sai Kung beaches (and on section 2 of the Maclehose Trail), also has a church named The Star of the Sea Chapel.  This was the last of the 11 to be erected.

For more remote island escapes of the non-Catholic and non-church-ruin type, see a few intrepid ideas here.